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A wildcard is keyboard character that can be used to stand in place of or more characters when conducting a computer search. Wildcards help users "fill in the blanks" on certain missing information. Although databases, software, and search engines may differ in the wildcard searches they support, the common wildcard is the asterisk (*), which can be used to represent any number of unknown letters or words in a phrase. A question mark (?) can be used in some databases and software, and represents only one unknown character.

Wildcard searches allow family history researchers to search for variations in spelling or to narrow the search for a name when only an initial is known. You can also use wildcards to help complete a phrase or to search for lost files on your computer.

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